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On the day journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, U.S. President Donald Trump told a rally in Southaven, Miss., that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman would only be able to keep his throne for two weeks without U.S. protection.

But as Mr. Khashoggi’s alleged murder came to light, the U.S. President’s claims of leverage shrank. Cutting off arms sales to the Saudis, he said, would hurt the U.S. more than Saudi Arabia.

Something similar is happening across the Western world. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted he’d like to cut off the $15-billion deal to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, if that didn’t risk penalties in the billions of dollars.

So when the Khashoggi case gets bogged down in broader policy questions, the big, important, but murkier issues of arms sales and national interest, or how best to protect human rights, let’s not forget this is personal.

This was a shocking assassination of one person, Mr. Khashoggi. The question now is whether one person, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS as he is widely known, is held accountable.

That means demanding an international investigation that has a hope of identifying those responsible. And if that fails, aiming sanctions at MBS. Canada and the U.S. can sanction him under so-called Magnitsky laws that allow them to sanction foreign individuals involved in rights abuses.

By now, nearly everyone knows Mr. Khashoggi, a well-known Saudi journalist, Washington Post contributor, and critic of MBS, was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He went there to get a document so he could marry, and never came out.

The Saudis denied his death for days. But Turkish officials claimed to have recordings, and leaked reports that a 15-man Saudi team had travelled to kill Mr. Khashoggi and dismember his body. Several were linked to MBS. The Saudis eventually admitted Mr. Khashoggi had died, in a fight, they claimed, or in an interrogation gone awry.

Those stories are transparently false. Western politicians have publicly doubted them. Mr. Trudeau said they’re not credible. Several U.S. senators noted it is inconceivable Mr. Khashoggi would have been killed without the crown prince’s approval. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham said MBS is responsible; Senator Bob Corker said on CNN, “Yes, I think he did it.”

That would not simply be tyrannical rule at home, or spy operations against enemies abroad. The case fits with recent Saudi efforts to intimidate dissidents outside their borders. But to send a hit squad to kill a mere critic in a consulate in a foreign country demonstrates a breathtaking sense of impunity.

MBS has acted recklessly before, launching a blockade of Qatar, intimidating Saudi royals to turn over billions in an anti-corruption drive, even arresting the visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and forcing him to resign – though Mr. Hariri later rescinded that resignation.

Throughout, U.S. support remained unstinting. Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, made MBS his key partner in the Arab world.

So while Mr. Trump claimed to be the big dog that kept Saudi kings in power, MBS, it seems, can grab the tail and wag the dog. The Saudis are major exporters of oil and importers of arms, and adversaries of Mr. Trump’s chief Mideast target, Iran.

But let’s start with the personal. Demand a transparent international investigation into who is responsible. Failing that, move to sanction MBS. Pressure will build.

It may be that nothing can dislodge the crown prince from power. His father, King Salman, is 82, and MBS has consolidated control over Saudi security institutions. But personal blame can weaken him, or press him to restraint in the future. Right now, he will be worrying about his grip on power – that other Saudi royals are whispering that the reckless prince is a threat to the kingdom.

He has already appeared to soften his approach to Qatar. The damage to his carefully-crafted image has forced CEOs to shun his events. The greater the personal pressure, the more his sense of impunity will be weakened. Western leaders will be wary of aiding his wars or selling him arms. It’s important to remember Jamal Khashoggi’s case is personal.

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